Religious Sisters' Erie County/Erie City Election Survey on Climate Change

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Religious Sisters Survey Erie County/Erie City Candidates on Climate Change

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie sent out a survey to 42 candidates running for Mayor and City Council in the City of Erie, PA, as well as County Executive and County Council in the County of Erie, PA. The survey focused solely on climate change or global warming. Members of the group did not see or hear where this issue was being addressed, and felt it was very relevant especially with its relationship to the poor, as expressed in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. The committee composed of Sisters of Mercy Trish Tyler and Margie Park; Sister Marianne Stuckert and Deb Seng (Associate) from the Sisters of St. Joseph; and Barbara Roseborough and Marlene Trambley (Benedictine Oblates) received 29 replies. Realizing that poverty, violence, and economics are important issues for Erie, the religious sisters of Erie wanted the candidates to be aware that climate change is also a significant concern.

The County Executive respondents were Joseph Curlett, Kathy Dahlkemper, Tom Loftus, and Art Oligeri. Answering the survey from among those running for County Council were Carl Anderson, Mary Jo Campbell, Kathy Fatica, Paul Hirsch, Scott Rastetter, Tom Staszewski, and Robert Yates. Mayoral candidates responding to the survey were Lisa Austin, Jay Breneman, Almi Clerkin, Steve Franklin, Rubye Jenkins-Husband, Bob Merski, John Persinger, Joe Schember, and Jon Whaley. Among the respondents competing for City Council were Mark Aleks Aleksandrowicz, Liz Allen, Brad Ford, Gary Grack, Casimir Kwitowski, Rob Mahrt, Kevin Pastewka, Freda Tepfer, and Kathleen Schaaf.

The vast majority of those who returned the survey believe not only that climate change is a reality, but that it presents a threat to human existence and can have a negative effect on the citizens of Erie County. To most of the respondents climate change is a “very important” issue and that the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a major cause of global warming. Responses were split with regard to Erie’s joining the movement among cities such as Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, DC to become more energy efficient, with a significant group leaning toward its being a “very important” issue. The majority also expressed the importance of maintaining a sustainability coordinator on both the county and city levels. All but three felt it was “very important” to collaborate with Erie’s environmental groups to assure funding for clean air and water.

The candidates had ample space to comment on any of the issues. Their responses are below.
Pastewka: As a society I feel we need to move in the direction of renewable energy as quickly as possible. Currently I am working on the committee for the “People’s Climate March” in Erie on April 29th. The march begins, not accidentally, in front of the Erie Coke Corp plant on East Ave. As a city councilman, it will be a top priority of mine to continuously advocate for the environment and a green future for Erie.

Schaaf: I agree that we need clean air and water for future generations. I believe there is a cancer link involved when we are exposed to the toxins in our environment. … As a newly married couple 34 years ago we lived on Erie’s lower east side. Not only did we notice a foul odor on some days, but also noticed that our cars had a type of film (dusty grey white flakes) on them at times. In the summer when the windows were open our windowsills and floors would get black soot on them. Our feet would get black by just walking barefoot in the house. The outdoor soil was like black sand as well. We felt that this black soot was not healthy and decided to move our family after four years. I agree we should have healthier air quality.

Fatica: Working with the state and EPA to fund sustainability coordinator at the county level would be the most efficient approach to reducing carbon footprint.

Breneman: Erie needs to also be more proactive in efforts to safeguard our lake and streams, and in reducing pollution from balloons, lanterns, and plastics.

Austin: Years ago, I served as the Board Secretary for the Lake Erie Region Conservancy under the leadership of Tom Fuhrman. As a co-founder of Preservation Erie, I advocate for the adaptive reuse of existing structures because reuse is a green practice that maintains a sense of place while fostering economic development and public health. … In addition to concerns about air and water quality I’m concerned about the railroad and the toxic materials being hurtled through the city day and night. As mayor I would review and if needed update an emergency plan, and disseminate it through the region.

Curlett: Carbon dioxide may be a cause, but not a primary one.

Jenkins-Husband: Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, I believe, influences warming. … very important to address energy efficiency.

Tepfer: If transit could run more often, later on weekdays, and Saturdays and on Sundays, more people could use it thus reducing automotive contribution to carbon emissions. I have 25 years of experience in watershed management, water quality and use, and pollution prevention in the area of hazardous waste. I have a pollinator friendly garden (certified). I am a native plant gardener. People endeavoring to foster and enhance biodiversity should not be penalized for gardening practices that include reducing fall garden “cleanup.” Appropriately maintained gardens provide refuge for overwintering insects, and cover and food for birds.
Loftus: You can’t keep taking from the environment and not expect an ending effect not good. … At some point and time (climate change threat to human existence). … (Erie joining the movement among cities to reduce carbon their footprints) balanced with jobs.

Dahlkemper: I created the position of Sustainability Coordinator. I look forward to continuing to work with the various groups working on climate change and sustainability in Erie County as this is one of the most critical issues facing our planet.
Whaley: This entire area must recycle more. But we also need to preach RE-USE and REDUCE. I would fight to get wind, solar, and more. Waste to Energy at the city wastewater treatment plant. Electric vehicles for the city fleet. The list is endless.

Merski: Question 7: The city already has a sustainability coordinator, Sarah Galloway. I will expand the scope of her job to include going after these funds. I would also like to “green” City Hall and our firehouses for energy efficiency. Question 8: President Trump’s budget proposal eliminates funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Fund. As a councilman, I put in the resolution to ask our US Senators and Congressmen to restore funding for the Great Lakes.

: We are all in this together. City and County can no longer do it alone. We must all work together because, if we don’t, we will certainly all fall together!

Franklin: Question 4: Climate change, while a serious concern in the present day, has been very gradual over the past 50-100 years, and is anticipated by scientists tackling this issue to continue due to increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. I would hope during the course of this stated timeline that we can resolve the effects of climate change.

Allen: Question 7: maintain the position at the county. See if the county person can help on city issues. Partnerships are important. We need to link the fight against blight to the impact on the environment from litter and debris. Environmental education for the young – the work of Sister Pat Lupo can make a difference.

Campbell: As part of my committee assignments as a township council person, I am on the Edinboro Lake Watershed Association board. I have learned so much from French Creek information and other members of that Board. Climate change is real. Clean water and clean air are universal needs. We must be vigilant and educated on all issues preserving these all-important resources.

Rastetter: Developing the Bay Front is going in the wrong direction. We should be developing/renewing the Bayfront Neighborhoods and leave what’s left of the GAF site as public gardens. And have you seen the mountain rising above the Erie skyline. Recycling and renewable energy should be a priority. P.S. Love the new Pope.

Stasewski: I agree with science. (Threat to human existence) not in my lifetime nor yours. (Carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming) A cause can’t say major. Lake Erie is a national treasure for us!

Aleksandrowicz: (Climate change can have a negative effect) on the world/not a specific area (Erie city/county). Carbon dioxide not a major cause of global warming.

Kwitowski: The problem is funding on the city level – perhaps this could be solved on the county level because this is a regional problem. Perhaps gaming funds could be used. We need to be vigilant and hold those industries responsible that violate clean air and water standards. Feel free to contact me on issues where the city can be of help. P.S. My wife was a victim of poor air quality standards. She and I take clean air and water standards seriously.

Clerkin: Question 7: I believe maintaining the Sustainability Coordinator at the County level is very important. I will be delving more deeply into the city budget if I am fortunate to win the Democratic Primary on May 16. At that time, I will explore a position on the city level and/or shared services with the county. The City Economic Development Dept. can also be tasked with research and advising governments of the availability of funds to improve energy efficiency. We have experts in Erie and I would rely on their valuable input as well. I will rely on experts to prioritize, to assist the city on developing a plan of action to address energy efficiency and the stewardship of natural resources.

Hirsch: (Letter only) Nature has always played an important part in my life. I love hiking, kayaking, bike riding, skiing and the beach (I even asked my wife to marry me at Presque Isle). In Erie County, we are lucky to have many places where we can enjoy those and many more activities. As a County councilman, I will have a conservationist mindset by advocating for reducing waste and keeping our community clean. I also understand the other side, with many people depending on the jobs that use or produce coal power. The path we must choose must fit with not only protecting the environment, but also protecting jobs for those who depend on sustainable living wages to take care of their families.

Persinger: (This candidate chose to write a letter that included many issues. This is the section on the environment.) With regards to the environment, our climate is changing due to human activity and evolving environmental conditions, and I recognize the impact that a changing environment can have on a community. We are blessed to have such wonderful natural resources here in northwestern Pennsylvania, including Presque Isle and our Bayfront., As Mayor, I will work with our local, state, and federal officials, as well as our community groups and the private sector, to preserve these resources and protect the quality of our air, land, and waters. I will also work with these groups to improve the City’s energy efficiency and preserve more of our wonderful natural resources.

Mahrt: I am glad to see a local group as concerned with climate change and limiting Green House Gas Emissions as myself. In fact I would presume that I am one of the most concerned, if not the most concerned candidate for any local office when it comes to climate change and the limiting of Green House Gas emissions. I am committed to this fight in both my personal and professional lives. In my personal life, I use all energy efficient LED lighting in my home, try to walk to destinations in the city (when feasible), and when not feasible I drive my fully electric vehicle, which, per mile, produces half of the CO2 emissions when compared to the conventional gas powered vehicle. In my professional life, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton, a federal government consulting company. My direct client is the group within the US Navy in charge of investing over $1 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to the 135,000 Navy facilities around the globe. My job is to ensure the Navy not only invests in technology that will reduce Green House Gas emissions and energy usage, but that these investments also save money, reducing the long-term burden on the tax payers. There is no question that the City of Erie should be focusing more on measures that reduce energy usage and if I am fortunate enough to be elected this will truly be one of my highest priorities. Working with the US Navy I see how these projects benefit employees working in the buildings, reduce energy usage, and save taxpayer dollars, so these dollars can be spent on our vital city services. One area that is a no-brainer is that the city should invest in installing LED lights, initially through downtown, and hopefully beyond. These street lights consume less energy, require less maintenance, and can, when needed, produce a brighter light than the current street lights. If elected I will educate other council members and the public to the benefits of this type of project and do everything in my power to see this, and projects like this, come to fruition…. As you can see,
this issue is dear to my heart and I hope to be able to make positive changes for Erie on this front in the future.

Ford: (Letter only) I believe that climate change is real and that our climate and pollution problems are related to the actions of humankind. I am deeply saddened that our current administration is ignoring these issues and taking away protections from the environment and wildlife. As a city council candidate, I believe that Erie needs to research and invest in programs and processes that clean up our water system and keep it safe. I believe we need to harness the power of renewable energy sources, and that we need to protect the wildlife that shares our space. Part of that will come in the form of advancing technology in Erie, especially in City Hall. Part of that will be in initiatives for businesses to come to Erie and produce their energy-efficient products. I am a religious-minded Jewish father. It is part of my belief that we must leave this planet safer and cleaner for future generations. If you have any suggestions, my door will always be open to you.

Schember: Specifically, I want to: 1) work with the Streets Department to create attractive sidewalks and bike paths to encourage more healthy options for getting around the city; 2) work through the City Arborist to encourage the planting and replacement of more trees around the city; 3) use my relationship with business leaders to encourage the development of more energy-efficient work environments and clean energy sources, such as solar and wind; 4) explore tax incentives for clean energy businesses; 5) form a 2030 District in the greater Erie area with goals of 50% reduction in building energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 2030.

If you have any questions or are interested in the responses, please contact Marlene Trambley at